Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Jackie-O Surprise

I did not go to school on Thursday because I was attending a coach's mock trial training. When I returned Friday, I found a mysteriously wrapped present and card in my teacher's mailbox in the main office. Curiously, I opened the card and found that the present was from a friend and colleague of mine at school. I quickly tore off the wrapping paper to reveal - what else - but a Jackie-O "First Lady" Edition Bobble Head! It was one of the nicest, most special cards and gifts I've ever received, and I will treasure them always.

Making Strides Against Breast Cancer

On Sunday, October 24th I joined some of our students (PC Cheer Team and PC Cancer Awareness Club) for the "Making Strides Against Breast Cancer" 5k walk at Bergen Community College, which is the biggest event in North Jersey helping to raise money and awareness for Breast Cancer patients and survivors. Similar walks are held all over the country during October (Breast Cancer Awareness Month) and there were over 5,000 walkers who turned out for our event - including about 50 kids from our school. It was a perfectly crisp October day, and the sea of pink-clad walkers looked like a beautiful ribbon winding through the brightly colored fall trees. The event raised over $546,000 in donations for cancer research.

Pictures: (top) a group photo of our students who participated in the event; (bottom) I walked with two of my lovely seniors - who are both captains of the varsity cheer team

To Read News Article About the Event: "Thousands make the walk in Bergen County to help breast cancer suffers" - Click HERE

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Carcinoid Cancer: Recurrence Rates

I just read an article from the Annals of Surgery entitled "Carcinoid Tumors of the Appendix" that estimates there is an 80% chance that I will have a tumor recurrence since my initial Carcinoid tumor was bigger than 2 cm. The article only confirms what I have been hearing for the last few weeks from my friends in the Carcinoid community. I found several more reputable medical journals that all have the same statistic, so it's safe to say that 80% is a pretty good estimate of what I'm up against.**

I know that percentages are just calculated odds, and some people beat them. It's a little deflating though to think that my first fight with Cancer may have only been the beginning. I know that I have the best doctors in the world, and the most supportive friends and family anyone could ask for... but sometimes, I feel a little rushed to hit the "Rewind" button and just get back to the way things were before my diagnosis.

I never want to alarm people or cause problems, so I pretend a lot. I pretend my joints don't hurt so badly that sometimes (like today) I can barely walk or move. I pretend my fevers are gone, and I'm sleeping well. I pretend I don't need nausea pills anymore, and all my "plumbing" is humming like a well oiled machine. I pretend I'm not worried that I still may be dying. Dr. Nash has made it clear that there is really nothing to do but wait - nothing will relieve the lingering aches and pains and anxiety; no magic pill or treatment can erase all that's happened to my body as a result of the Cancer - so what else is there to do but pretend that everything is fine? After all, isn't hope just another form of pretending?

I know that I should be celebrating the gift of a second chance, but to tell you the truth I sort of feel like a wimpy kid with a shiny new bike who has to ride home past the neighborhood bully everyday. It would be so nice if the bully just went on a family vacation for a while - at least until I got a little faster, a little stronger, and could outrun him. I guess if I do have to face him, I should remember to "fight like a girl" - and win.

** UPDATE: After I posted this, my sister (who is in medical school) reviewed the medical literature and said that the statistics were not given enough context to support a generalized 80% recurrence rate - which is great news! I have tried to find something concrete about recurrence rates without success... If anyone has good resources on recurrences of Carcinoid tumors of the appendix (greater than 2cm) following a right hemicolectomy - please forward them!

** UPDATE: I saw Dr. Nash in April 2011, and he estimates my recurrence rate to be as low as 10%

Great bumper sticker I saw on the way home...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Covered Bridge in Kent, Conn.

"Autumn, the year's last, loveliest smile." - William Bryant

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Lunching in New England

Downtown Kent, Conn.

On our day-trip to Connecticut, Gary and I had lunch in "downtown" Kent at The Millstone Cafe, which is all about "celebrating honest food, mindfully prepared, locally sourced.” Everything they make is from local farms and delicious. We were so excited to see that they had Tempeh hot-dogs on the menu, which we ordered only to find that they had run out. So instead, we ordered a fantastic, earthy barley, feta and kale salad, which Gary was later able to duplicate at home.

Great Picture Hanging in the Millstone Cafe

For dessert, we walked down the street to "Belgique" - a Belgian chocolate shop nestled in a small Victorian carriage house. The owner of this gem is the real deal, and worked for Queen Elizabeth and the White House. We ordered two hot chocolates with Chantilly whip cream, which were rich and dreamy, but their chocolates -- so fresh they require an expiration date -- were hands-down the best I've ever tasted.

Then, with hot chocolates in hand, we strolled through a bag-book sale (you pay $5 for a bag and fill it up with as many books as the bag will hold) and wondered down some train tracks to photograph a picturesque farmhouse. It was a pretty amazing day.

Pumpkin Patch

Last weekend, Gary and I took a day-trip to Kent, Connecticut to see the fall leaves. On the way, we passed this enormous pumpkin patch in front of a church. The bright orange of the pumpkins, the clean white of the church, and the scarlet red of the trees created the perfect autumn mosaic.

"Autumn burned brightly, a running flame through the mountains, a torch flung to the trees" - Faith Baldwin

Sunday, October 17, 2010

"Jalan Jalan" for a Cure

At the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation's 2010 Walk

During my second year of law school, I spent 10 weeks working for The Center for Law and Global Justice in Bali. During my time there, I was part of a team of lawyers helping the Indonesian government develop their first set of intellectual property laws. And I surfed.

After about a month, my friends and I learned where the secluded beaches were - free from infestation of two exceedingly annoying groups: drunk tourists and the "merchants" who came over from neighboring islands each day to hustle them.

Sometimes, because of work, we stayed local and surfed tourist spots like Kuta, where obnoxiously aggressive peddlers follow you up and down the beach trying to sell anything and everything from blankets to coconut ice cream. Luckily, once we uttered the phrase "jalan jalan" and responded to their weak come-backs in Bahasa Indonesia, they'd leave us alone.

The phrase "jalan jalan" literally translates to "walking walking" - but like most Bahasa Indonesian expressions, literal translation is only tangentially related to actual meaning. Roughly, when said by a group, "jalan jalan" means "I am only interested in walking with my friends and not with you".

Last weekend, this dusty unused phrase peaked its head out from my subconscious because I was in fact "walking walking" with my amazing friend Christine, and did not want to be anywhere else in the world.

Gary and I walked with Christine and "the kids" (Christine's niece and nephew, and their cousin) in the 2010 JDRF Walk in Avon, NJ. The event raised money to help find a cure for Type 1 (juvenile) diabetes - which Christine's niece was diagnosed with a couple of years ago. It was truly an honor to walk with such a brave and beautiful group of kids and their families. As one little boy's shirt said: "insulin is not a cure" - and "walking walking" was the least I could do to help find one.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Meeting Sophia Rae

Gary and I have spent hours and hours in doctors' offices, specialist offices, and hospitals over the last nine months. One of our favorite people in the medical world, however, isn't a medical professional at all - he's the doorman at Sloan Kettering's Cancer Center in Manhattan.

The doorman is a gatekeeper of sorts, standing between the outside world and a world centered around cancer. He is this big gregarious guy, who makes it seem like you're a famous celebrity as soon you walk into the lobby. His presence is necessary - he is there to try to put a smile on your face before you climb into a crowded elevator and stare in awkward silence at the panels above the door which illuminate (literally) the different cancers that are treated on each floor. When the panel for floor 3 "Colorectal and Related Cancers" lights up, the doors open and Gary and I step out - leaving the others to keep climbing.

Last week, Gary and I took another elevator ride - this time to the fourth floor of St. Peter's Hospital to meet my good friend Beth's day-old baby girl: Sophia Rae.

Beth and I were destined to become friends ... we both lived in CA; moved to NJ at the same time; were hired to teach at the same high school; and attended the same Seton Hall graduate program. Last spring, we shared another thing in common - we both struggled with nausea and weird pains. After I was diagnosed with cancer, Beth supported me every step of the way. Luckily, Beth's symptoms were caused by morning sickness, and I delighted in watching her belly (and her glow) grow month by month.

Gary and I couldn't wait to meet Sophia, and as we were parking the car we realized that it was the first time in nine months that we had been to the hospital and weren't scared - and just like that, "the hospital" transformed from a place of sickness and pain into a place of miracles and joy.

At the Hospital - Holding Sophia

As Gary and I sat with Beth and her husband, Ryan, in the hospital room, the happiness was overwhelming. Holding little Sophia and feeling her heart beat and little body squirm made me giddy - and seeing my friend so beautiful and healthy made me want to cry with gratitude. Being able to welcome this new little person into the world, and hear about her birth made every one of those elevator trips to Sloan-Kettering's 3rd floor worth it.